History has most widely been told by cis, het white men. The spoils go to the victor, and when we think about the history of colonization – we understand that those spoils were not only wealth, labour, and land – but also power over how the history of that colonization was diminished or erased entirely – we’re here to change that in community.
– McKensie Mack
McKensie Mack is the Director of a global organization, ART+FEMINISM, a campaign that seeks to “confront and correct biased content about marginalized folks on the internet – focusing specifically on cis, trans, and nonbinary artists and activists”. While working under the pseudonym, BUNNY, they also operate as an anti-oppression consultant and visual artist exhibiting digital works. Daniela Brugger is an artist in residence who’s work focuses on self-organised space within informal knowledge exchange and alteration as a permanent condition. Her global engagement with local communities through several editions of Who writes his_tory? endeavours to create platforms that provide some of the tools necessary to amend the online archive. While currently in the midst of her six-month residency in South Africa, she mentioned how the experience has enriched her perspective around positionality and a continual awareness of oneself in space.
Together they will be hosting the Johannesburg edition of Who writes his_tory? Unfuk the record on the 17th of November at Keleketla! Library, in collaboration with Dumisani Ndubane & Bobby Shabangu from Wikimedia ZA. The two Wikipedians from the local chapter write predominantly in Xitsonga and Isiswati as a means to generate broader access of information to South Africans across linguistic lines. However, as the world’s fifth-largest website it is also not immune to systemic hierarchies of knowledge production. McKensie notes that, “we’re here to build awareness of how open source communities like Wikipedia work and function as tools for preserving history. If we don’t understand how a tool can be used to perpetuate systemic bias – we cannot begin to understand how it can be used to create systemic justice”. Collaboration on the platform with the local community of artists, writers, and archivists is how the project aims to sustainably engage with information activism.
Unfuk the record was conceived out of the notion of the intimacy of language within community, “because of the ways our history is painted by global colonization, that the written record is fucked, and this event is about confronting that not only through the action of editing, but also through the equally important action of dialogue and celebration of our liberation within community”. The title is also a response to the active sanitisation and down-play of pain experienced by marginalised peoples. The workshop will serve to demystify some of the barriers to entry in editing while also interrogating the privileging of certain modes of knowledges over others, bringing awareness to the type of langue (gendered, racist, sexist, ableist etc.) used to describe histories, events and peoples. The process of archiving inevitably involves curating the inclusion and exclusion of information – deeming what is ‘notable’ and worth documenting – implicitly locating agency within the writing of the archivist. This presents an opportunity to also amend and engage with the vast gaps still present on digital platforms.
The democratisation of the internet has provided a perception of equality. However, a confluence of obstacles infringes on the ability to access and contribute. On this point, McKensie notes that, “there are a lot of people within and outside the community of Wikipedia who like to say, ‘anyone can edit on Wikipedia,’ and while that’s figuratively true – the statement erases global communities of potential editors without access to the internet, …to education, and …to healthcare – all issues which would prohibit marginalized folks from being represented on the platform”. However, people with access to internet and a device to connect to the internet can edit Wikipedia. Which is why Wi-Fi will be available at the event as well as a workshop on how to edit on laptops and mobile phones. Nevertheless, all data contributions are welcome in the communal space and participants are encouraged to bring a device to the edit-a-thon.
All participants are welcome to edit any topics of interest although the central focus of the event will be the histories of cis and trans women artists and non-binary artists – using art as a lens to gain insights into the cultural norms of society. A round table with Dumisani Ndubane, Bobby Shabangu, Fouad Asfour, McKensie Mack and Daniela Brugger as well as readings by Thuli Gamedze and Asemahle Ntlonti (from iQhiya) and Elena Patrise will conceptually frame the workshop. Daniela mentioned that, “the round table is an option to discuss with different players who have experience in working with Wikipedia on different levels. They all edit within different languages and work with Wikipedia as a tool in various contexts such as art spaces, museums, libraries and schools. The round table is an open exchange platform to give attendants an overview of different existing initiatives as well as contacts”.
In addition to this, snacks and refreshments will be provided as well as performances during the event – including a DJ set by Simnikiwe Buhlungu. McKensie’s approach is that, “this is done with intention, because when it comes to social justice work, we have to remember that our own autonomy, healing and overall wellbeing as individuals and as a greater community is the main goal. So, why not enter a space where you can learn, engage, and mini party at the same time? That’s what living life free is all about”.
Editing instructions and the workshop will begin at 11am while the round-table discussion will be from 3-6pm. A parallel event, Lephephe Print Gatherings III will be hosted on the top floor of KingKong.
Venue: Keleketla! Library @ King Kong6 Verwey Street, Troyeville, Johannesburg